San Mateo County Seeks Updated Count of Homeless Residents with Hopes to Improve Services - LifeMoves Skip to main content

Read this article from the San Mateo Daily Journal:

Before the sun could come up Thursday morning, volunteers and officials from across San Mateo County flooded neighborhoods in search of homeless residents living on the streets, in tents, makeshift shelters, cars or RVs.

Known as the One Day Homeless Count and mandated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the search is conducted once every two years and is meant to give local, state and federal agencies an idea of how many people are living without homes across various regions.

But County Executive Officer Mike Callagy said local officials are less concerned about the number, which he noted is only a best estimate, and more interested in connecting those in need with vital services.

“We want the [Homeless Outreach] teams to be the first line of defense and to really work with the population, get to know them, and show them the benefits of coming into shelter,” Callagy said. “It’s all about getting people housed and saving lives. There’s just too many people dying on the street.”

The count was last conducted in 2022 during which about 1,800 residents were homeless, according to a county report. Of those individuals, about 1,100 were unsheltered, meaning they were living on the streets, in a car, van or RV, or in a tent or other structure. The other 700 were living in temporary housing across the county.

The overall number is just an estimate, said Lena Silberman, a management analyst in the County Executive’s Office whose work focuses on policy and homelessness. Each tent and structure sighted is counted as a single person despite being large enough to house more than one individual.

“It’s a hard balance,” Silberman said, noting additional data indicates more people are now in shelters than living on the streets today.

Morning of the count

Silberman joined Callagy; Carolina Moscoso, an outreach worker with nonprofit LifeMoves; and Eric Forgaard, a county civic engagement specialist, at 5 a.m. Thursday to conduct this year’s count. Like other volunteers up and down the county, the group piled into a car and cruised through parking lots, side streets and busy roads scouring the area for any sign someone may be living there.

A tent tucked away in a corner, someone pushing a shopping cart or pulling a small wagon full of belongings, a car with steamed windows or RVs surrounded by bags, bikes and other items, or full makeshift structures are all indicators of life, Callagy said.

Many groups completed Thursday’s count without spotting a single person residing in the streets. Meanwhile, Moscoso spent the morning entering multiple sightings on Redwood City’s eastern edge into the app Counting Us used only internally at the moment.

Redwood City is known to be home to a larger share of the county’s unhoused population, a fact Callagy theorized could be due to resources being centralized in the city. Caseworkers across the county, though, have large caseloads, Moscoso said.

“Everybody, I feel, is overworked. We just need more people in the streets,” Moscoso said.

Jerry and Scott along the tracks

Nearing the end of the group’s time searching in Redwood City, they came across Jerry and Scott. The friends were living in a shack made of plywood along train tracks near Veterans Boulevard and Highway 101, the frontage sprayed in red paint with the words “No soliciting” and “go away” on the door.

Both found their way to homelessness through drug addiction. Scott relapsed about five months ago after years living sober and working in restaurants, and Jerry spent the past seven years going between jail and the streets.

Their lives, as to be expected, aren’t easy. Scott said he often can’t sleep out of fear of assault. He and his roommate recounted stories of fires being lit near makeshift homes out of spite. Reasons for conflict vary, Jerry said, from arguments between couples to tiffs between dwellers of different encampments over stolen goods.

Both said they also often feel harassed by police officers for simply being homeless instead of being offered services. And addiction is a hard reality, both noting they’ve seen friends overdose, Jerry as recently as Wednesday night. But on days when they’re hungry and cold, drugs help the time pass, they said.

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